Monday, 19 October 2015

Don't ask those at the top.

There's a lot of ' Hoo Haa' being said about education at the moment.  There are 'Top' Principals, from 'Top' Schools projecting 'Top' comments to 'Top' periodicals about 'Lesser' learning environments and the learning that occurs within them.

The truth is when you finally arrive at the top, when all is said and done there is a hell of a lot more said than done.  I mean, when you finally arrive at the 'Top', where else is there to go, what else can one do and what is left to say?  It must be awesome standing on the top and looking down on all of those things and people that are below?  Well, that is one perspective, that to change it, requires one to lower themselves.
Recently JK Rowling said "If you want to know what a man is really like, look at how he treats his inferiors".  This statement, like those quoted from 'Top "schools', also send shivers up my spine, because it echoes a societal discourse that that contradicts all of what I believe that schooling should be about.  To even treat an inferior well, one must consider that the notion of inferiority exists.

I don't know who said this but this makes more sense to me. "Nobody is superior, nobody is inferior, but nobody is equal either.  People are simply unique, incomparable.  You are you, I am I.  I have to contribute my potential to life; you have to contribute your potential your potential to life.  I have to discover my own being; you have to discover your own being."

As soon as you have a notion that there is a top and a bottom, then you have a diminishing of the voices that are perceived to be placed at the bottom.  Have you noticed that the media do not turn to those voices unless something extraordinary happens.  Schools 'bucking the trends' with achievement, a team or individual makes the National stage or the project that is 'turning lives around'.  None of these things are bad, but I can tell you this, in education and learning there are many many examples of outstanding educational practice that will never be highlighted, purely because they are not deemed lofty enough.

So with this in mind, I seek daily reassurance that we are on the right track in our 'Modern Learning Environment', by listen ing to the voices that matter, the students.  Here are some very recent answers to a question that I asked some learners in my HUB.  Tell me about some recent learning that you have had, and how might you apply it?

My moment of learning is learning about binary and how it works, how the 1’s represent a bit and the 0’s represent an empty slot.  TheY are put in certain orders to represent letters for example the letter A is 00001 and B is 00010, how it works is that 00001 is one 00010 is two 00011 is three so on, the first bit is one, then two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty two, sixty four and is keeps doubling. Using binary also helps you find a faster and more efficient way to sort items, it takes half of the selected items you are sorting goes through them, if it is higher, or lower than all the selected items then it uses the other half and it keeps doing that until you find the one you were looking for.

Last term I learn’t something that changed my whole attitude towards things. I’m the type of person that over thinks things or can get really worried. Last term in one of my SPIN (Special Interest) classes I was put in a group with people who honestly tend to go off task. I would be working in that group for the next few weeks and our drama performance would be marked on the SOLO rubric as part of our term 3 report. When I saw the group I was in I instantly started worrying that this would cause me to get a low mark, which is something I don’t really like, but then I thought to myself “no, I’m going to try and make this work”. I already had learned in the past that I can be a good leader when I want to, and if I just summoned up the confidence to lead my group so we could produce at least an okayish drama performance it would be all good. It also helped that I am passionate about drama. Anyway, in the end everything turned out better than I thought it would be and I was worrying about nothing! So the moral of the story is, if you have a positive attitude towards things you will 9 times out of 10 turn out with a better outcome!

During the holidays my mum was talking to my auntie and I was just sitting there on my phone but I was also listening to what they were saying. As I was sitting there I heard them talking about looking at things in a different perspective and my mum said that different generations and different types of people look at things differently. For example my auntie would buy some toys for her children to play with but they already have lots of toys, then her mother in law would say buy something more useful like games, activities etc… to help them learn new things. So in the end everyone has their different opinions and will have their own perspective on things. When I heard what my mum and auntie were talking about, it made me realize that not everyone will agree on the same thing but if you look at things from their side you can see a whole different side to the story. I feel like this will help me in the future not just in learning but also in life because now I know that no one is ever really wrong it’s just how you feel and how your perspective is on a certain situation.

One thing that is going to change my life is knowing that if you be more positive to people, things go more your way and that will help you achieve a group activity. This works by keeping the team strong and you if fuel them with a strong positive attitude, they will see you as a leader and follow your moves and you will lead them into a big battle on war of achievement and this  will give everyone a good vibe so you can win the game or competition. You can change other people simply by having a positive approach and attitude.

The thing that I learnt was about building up my confidence. Throughout my schooling years I was never really the confident person I would only talk loud to my friends and family but  I never liked talking to the teacher. I always found it difficult to speak in parent teacher interview because the teacher wouldn’t really know me that well and I had to tell them everything about my learning in the pass. I wasn’t very good at some of my subjects such as mathematics but At the end of year 8 my confidence started building up and when I started high school I found it easier to interact with teachers and other students and would present projects in front of people in my spins and modules. This year has helped me a lot with my confidence because teachers would tell me that I got better at a subject,  finding out my strengths and weaknesses and staying positive towards my learning. I still have have to build up more confidence to answer questions in spins and modules so far this school has helped me a lot with my learning and helping me finding out things I never knew about myself but this year has been good because I had more confidence in myself and told myself I could do things I never thought I could do.     

A, learning and a life changing, thing for me was being able to go to school at my primary and and high school actually being able to learn maths, writing, reading, spelling, languages and science without these i couldn’t be prepared for my future like if i went to a job interview and wanted to get a job to be a scientist i couldn’t i don’t know maths and fractions or angles so without me going to school i wouldn't be able to get a job to easy and when i came to this high school i've learn a lot more than i have ever like coding was a great experiment and learning about a.i and how it all works.

I cannot remember too much of the specifics but I remember walking into my lounge only to find my mum sitting on the couch doing the strangest fake laugh I have ever heard. There was nothing around to laugh at either, no books or devices in play nothing, so I asked her what is she laughing about?  Pretty much, to sum it up, she said that when you fake laugh you will feel so silly about doing the fake laugh and you end up laughing for real and that sends some kind of hormones around that makes you happy. So now when I feel a bit sad or a lot sad I just fake laugh to make myself feel better. Another thing I do now is talk to a friend and just make a lot of jokes which makes me laugh as well and causes the same effect.
I also had another learning memory this year. So for this learning memory I took a My Time called the lyricist because all the other my times in my head sounded boring. So when I got there what we had to do was write a song, and I ended up starting to write a terrible song but had the best time doing so. I got one of my friends to join the my time and every week we would look forward to continue creating our creation. I still create a song from time to time I think my most recent one is about how hard you work to achieve something but in the end you lose apart of who you were before and how you have to live with what you get. So now I have little projects I can work on through my day and every time I complete one I feel like I got an achievement.

My moment of learning that changed the way that I see things is to just go with the flow
instead of making excuses not to do anything.  Have a positive attitude when you're doing the thing that you don't really like doing or when you're just not in the mood to do any work.  Personally when I am doing work that I don't really like I try to just go with it and have a positive attitude, instead of making a fuss about it.  Then in doing that it made me feel good about the task and I can actually end up enjoying the things that seem boring or hard at the start.

One piece of leaning that has affected me in the past was showing confidence. I have always been cautious of what I do due to how people might show judgmental attitudes or show disrespect. What has made me change the way of looking into this issue was in the past I had to present a Tribute Performance, for a school project. Beforehand I was predicting what other people would say to me after the act. For example- ( Your voice broke, You can't sing, Try hard, you suck at singing etc… ). Suddenly after the act I felt a relief in my shoulders that it was over. I still didn't want to go off into the area and get all this negative feedback that I had in mind. Then out of no-where I was hearing voices saying “Nice voice”, “Your talented”, “You did amazing” etc…. I guess I just had all this tension on me and what others ‘would’ say about me. But I've recently found out that, it's completely normal for performers to feel this emotion. Now I have all this confidence growth in me and it's slowing gaining more.

In Words Act, I found out that i'm good at writing a blog. I got good comments about my Malala blog and I am also writing a blog about Greenpeace.  One of the blog’s I wrote  was about Amnesty International.  I found out that my blog’s had 104 pageviews and Ma koura blog’s have 5 pageviews.  My ‘Words Act’ blog has 64 pageviews from the United States 34 pageviews from New Zealand 2 pageviews from Italy 2 pageviews from Romania 1 pageview from Germany and 1 pageview from France.The blog’s I wrote were week 1 Issues going viral on rhino poaching Cecil the lion week 3 making sense of greenpeace and  amnesty international Malala and greenpeace. I’m thinking the blog’s could help me with my writing.The comments I got for my blog’s really help.

This year I have learnt many things but one big thing for me would have to be learning how to become more confident especially when asking questions. I remember at the start of the year I would never ask the teacher questions about the work that I was doing or about anything else. I would always be behind because I sometimes wouldn't know what I was doing. But now I have become better at it. During the year I have become a lot more confident compared to the start of the year. I think many things have contributed to me becoming more confident like making new friends, the extended hub times and doing things with the tiriwa community. I can now confidently ask questions to almost anyone and it has really helped me at school.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Good Bones

Good Bones

“Fuck, I hate working on old houses…..I really hate it mate…..But, I’ll do it, just for you….There’s not many people I would do it for...but I’ll do it for you". “What’s the problem with old houses?”  I cautiously asked.  As if not listening, quietly contemplating, running his hand and eye along a weather board, he slowly shuffled, his eye never leaving the board  “They can look good….really good….like this one...and I bet she must have been a beauty in her day...but.” He spoke quietly as if more to himself more than me.  “You see,  under those layers of paint and those 80’s weather boards, that new tin roof and that shitty Gib job  inside...It’s probably a bloody mine field, a fucken nightmare and probably not worth spending the money to be honest, But hey….it’s your cash.”  He stopped and took his eye off the board, momentarily, and  turned his head over his, still focussed, shoulder.  “It is cash….isn’t it?”  I nodded while pretending to be overly interested in the primed pine plank he seemed to be molestering.

He was right.  People would spend time and money on these old villas, not really doing anything more than giving it a face lift.  Pouring all of their effort into decisions such as  Kokako Green or Pencarrow Blue, Quilla or Pine or some other aesthetic element.  According to him, they should have spent their money on a new house, “preferably one with good bones” he would say.
He worked hard over the next two weeks and  I helped, shadowing him like a new puppy,  following him around ready to jump and eager to please.  Some of his suspicions were correct. As we unveiled rotten joists or framing, he would ruthlessly begin removing it all.  I thought he was a bit ‘O,T,T’ at times, but he would keep taking it back, tapping bits with his hammer, checking it with the square and a level until he found something good, something straight and true, something with some  structural integrity and then he would begin to re-build, cutting the new pink four by twos and nailing them back, firmly in place.

He finished the job in a little over two weeks, and after helping him stack away his tools we sat and had a beer.  “Hey….I really appreciate all the work that you have put in.  I reckon it’s come up really well, and you should be pleased….eh?”  He cracked the top on his second ‘Steiny’ “ Yeah….I reckon it’s come up OK.  I was probably a bit harsh at times but it is worth putting in the effort….especially when you find one like this.”  “Like this?” I asked.  “Yeah….one with good bones….this house has good bones”.

That was our last drink, together, ever. He had good bones as well, even I could see that.  

Wednesday, 29 April 2015


Steve Mouldy says:
This May, I would like to encourage everyone to take part in a challenge. The challenge is to share a sketch every day in May. We can all track each other by using #edsketch15 on our shares (whether it be on twitter, Google+, instagram or whatever social media you utilise).
Inspired by Austin Kleon‘s Show Your Work, I would like to encourage everyone to sketch something they have been reading, thinking about, trying out, observing, questioning, exploring, reflecting on, working on that day. 
Sketches are great for this purpose – they don’t take an hour to write (although you are absolutely welcome to craft it for as long as you want). The quality of the sketch doesn’t matter – it’s not our drawing talent we are sharing, it’s our ideas and thoughts. If you are worried about what your sketches look like, perhaps this task will help you develop morecreative confidence over the month as well. If this worries you, this post gives some tips that helped me when sketching thoughts for GTASYD last year.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Just keep rowing

There is an old saying, "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got".  I recently attended a conference that featured a couple of well known international 'educational gurus', but I came away with a saying echoing around my head from an unexpected source.  Like Dory from the movie 'Finding Nemo', who sang repeatedly "Just keep swimming, Just keep....:"  I found myself repeating "Just keep rowing, just keep rowing, just keep rowing...." as I left.  Jamie Fitzgerald from T.V One's show 'First Crossings' cut to the chase using a very clear and evident example of how applying a Growth Mindset at the right time in the right place pays unimaginable dividends for those who are so bold as to depart from tradition and defaults.

I found myself in a familiar situation, recently, while teaching.  A group of learners, in one of my modules, had been causing concern over the past few weeks.  Disengaged, unfocussed, distracting others, and unproductive was how I described the group in an email, expressing my concerns, to a member of Senior Leadership Team.  I have been there before in previous schools, where an email is sent, usually, leading to an intervention visit from a school manager or specialist from higher up the food chain.  They would interrogate and negotiate with the learner/s in question and there would be an outcome that frequently left the learner and the teacher (me) in an awkward spot that usually resulted in one of the most destructive learning outcomes, the slow spoiling of the learner/teacher relationship.  Even when restoratively managed the term 'restorative practice' still implies that there is something left to restore, and in this situation it is a learner's feeling of being betrayed by the teacher to another level of authority.

So in doing what I have always done the potential of damaging these learning relationships was a real possibility.  I considered this in the light of Jamie's experience mid Atlantic where during a rowing race across that ocean the two-man crew encountered a big storm.  The usual thing to do would be to set a drogue or sea anchor and wait the storm out, and that is exactly what every other team in that race did.  Jamie's team, having never competed in that race before, knew no better, so they just kept rowing.  Jamie, after three days and very disillusioned, made a satellite call to his team leader in New Zealand.  He explained that they were rowing but were losing distance every day, every hour and every minute. In fact they were going backwards. His team leader said "whatever you are doing....keep doing it.  You are 30 nautical miles ahead  of the closest team".  Jamie went on to tell us that they eventually won that trans-Atlantic race, not by 30 miles but by 25 miles.

Jamie's boat, Mid Atlantic

So what did I do? A bit of a learning storm is a common occurrence and unfortunately in dealing with these storms can often default to a set script and process but not for me this time.  I was going to "just keep rowing".

I had an opportunity to spend some time with these learners.  This opportunity was afforded by the teaching model that we have at HPSS.  Two teachers, one class meant that I could easily work in a productive 'Pop-Up' work shop, aimed at solving the learning issues for this group of learners.

I front loaded this with a 'class-wide-co-constructed' SOLO rubric.  We thought a mid-term indication of our engagement and effectiveness in this class might be a good idea.  The following is the students thoughts on their engagement levels.

    1. Pre-structural:     Where am I?  What task?  How long 'til lunch time?
    2. Uni-structural:     I have an idea but don't really know where to start.
    3. Multi-structural:  I have a few ideas but need a bit of help to develop and connect them.
    4. Relational:           I am onto it.  I know what I am doing and how I will report what I know.
    5. Extended abstract: I have explored the topic thoroughly and I am discussing what I know using a variety of tools and perspectives to display my thinking and learning in an organised manner.        

The learners, each, quickly identified where they sat on this 'learner-constructed' rubric.  We made it 'safe' to be sitting at the early stages of the rubric, because there were a whole heap of reasons that explained why one required help.  Along with a couple of students with specific learning needs, without fail, each of my disengaged learners identified their correct position and moved to a new space for our workshop. What transpired will be a some learning that I will never forget.

If I was to get to the bottom of my perceptions regarding their disengagement, I would need to ask a few questions about the course and their thoughts were needed. "I have noticed that you guys seem to be disengaged with this course.....let's talk about what is going on for you".  The following map developed as I listened to their thoughts.

Right away the students identified many of the key elements that were contributing to the disengagement that I was seeing.  By allowing the learners voice to be heard, instead of my accusations and observations opened the doorway to a whole new level of discussion for me.  We agreed that this list of words represented a barrier to our learning and teaching process.

If these opinions are true then what needs to change?  How might we remove these barriers? What can they change? Then perhaps the most challenging question of all.  What can I change?  So often I have sought change that is centred around the learner, after all it is their behaviour that is the problem, isn't it?  How often do we consider that we are as much of the issue as the learner?  This is the  'just keep rowing' bit, where  I continue to work with the learner/s instead of seeking assistance in the usual way.

So after identifying the barriers, I then threw it back to the learners.  "How might we sort this out"?  Very quickly the students decided that they could change a few things about their own learning practice.

  • Come to class better prepared.
  • Listen more effectively.
  • Contribute to learning discussions.
  • Decide to be on task and engaged.
  • Ask for clarification.
More importantly they also suggested a few things that I could change and I think that this is the key.
Listening to the learner voice is often overlooked as a solution to those learning storms.  This is probably because, amidst a learning storm, we often see student learning issues as primarily a fault of the learner.

Their suggestions:
  • "Break it down for us into smaller units".
  • "Give us less to focus on at one time".
  • "Can we change the topic"? one asked.  "I hate what we are doing".
  • "Give us clear expectations".
  • "Can I work with a different person"?
  • "Can I share what I know in this way"?
We went on to have the most exciting session as we re-negotiated the entire task. My challenge to you, I guess, is to ask yourself....How might I work with my learners to resolve learning issues, without damaging relationships and without falling into the trap of doing things a certain way, just because that's the way it's always been done?

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Challenge by Choice... a more personal Journey

As we move into a new school year, I have come back from a holiday with an incredible amount of hope and confidence that I can be even more effective, not only as a teacher but also as a learner, a Dad and husband.  I have been on a journey that has seen me critically examine my own mindset, or in my case, my own fixed mindset. I was given the Carol Dweck's book, Mindset just before Christmas and thus began my journey.

Have you ever had a knitted jersey? I remember as a kid having a few of them, but one particular Aran Marino wool Jersey was given to me on my 10th birthday.  Knitted by one of my Grandmothers, this item was handed over to a 10 year old Pete as if I had been presented with the family treasures and now I felt like I was the guardian of the entire wealth and worth of my family and it had been entrusted to me.  What fools they were! You see, there is something about a wonderful knitted jersey and a ten year old boy that does not quite work. ( maybe the jersey is not so wonderful now...but then it was)  You see, this jersey was for Sunday best and strictly for church,  or else, but I needed to show it off in my other circles.

Monday morning at 8:09am I peered into my duffle bag as I waited for the bus.  I had been successful in sneaking it past the security and the jersey was securely stuffed into the bag ready for deployment.  9:01am, shortly after the bell I excused myself from class and went to the toilet.  I grabbed my bag, deployed the jersey and checked myself out in the chrome-like reflection of the sparkling clean urinal.  I was ready to make my entrance into the room of my peers and they would "oooohh and aaaahh" in complete admiration of Pete who had acquired a Hand-Knitted Arun Marino Jersey, complete with cabling.

As I entered the room I caught the last of my class mates disappearing outside to make the most of the sunshine on the the early June morning.  I chased the class across the field and onto the tennis courts.  We began a game of 'Rounders' and very soon we were entwined in stiff competition, the two teams neck and neck as we approached the end of our game.  With only one run required to win outright, I was given the bat and instructed to "whack the shit out of it", by our team captain and Tania was not a girl to be let down, so I whacked the shit out of it.  The ball shot high into the air and promptly sailed over the fence into the yard of the neighbouring house.  I was out without getting the run and my team jeered at me in disgust as they packed up the bases and the bat.  I was left to retrieve the ball.
At this point you may be wondering where I am going with this, but you need to trust me.  There was no gate into the private yard, so I had to climb the 5 meter high wire fence.  I got to the top  and over and retrieved the ball.  Making my way back to the fence I discovered that the house possessed a dog.  Actually the house had a possessed dog, who was in full flight snapping and snarling, managing to reach the arm of my new jersey just as I reached to fence.  I tried to climb as the demon tried to claim me back into his realm, pulling on my sleeve, trying to make me lose my grip.  I could feel my fingers hurting as the grip on the wire slowly relinquished.  I was about to let go when it happened.  The dog mysteriously let go, much to my relief.  I was able to climb and free myself from this hell-raising scenario.  Upon landing I looked down at my sleeve and was relieved to see that the dog had left no noticeable damage. "Whew" I stammered.  I picked up the ball and headed back to class.  I only managed a few steps when I felt something strange on my back.  I turned to see a strand of Arun Marino wool extending from the back of my new jersey to the top of the fence.  My heart sank!

I carefully took off the jersey and discovered a 25 x 10 centimetre segment missing, including cabling.  I thought if I could just wind up the wool and be careful then I could find someone to fix it for me.  Each time I pulled on the wool more of the jersey would disappear and unravel.  Each time I showed someone, they would have a fiddle and also pull more wool. The ball of wool grew bigger and the more of my jersey with incomplete cabling would disappear.  There was no hiding this anymore and the Hand-Knitted Arun Jersey was now useless until it could be craftily refashioned again.

How does this relate to mindset?  Quite simply mindsets are the beliefs that we have.  They are core beliefs and are responsible for the way that we act, respond, think and function in all aspects of our lives.  As I delved into the core beliefs that I had while reading Mindset, I could see that changes were required.  I pulled a little on the thread of my upbringing.  I pulled a little on the thread of religion.  I pulled a little on the thread of abuse and bullying.  I pulled a little on the thread of my health and fitness.  Before I knew it I had a gaping 10 x 25 centimetre hole in the middle of my belief structure and the garment that I wore was rendered useless, except for the lovely ball of wool that was developing and could now be re-crafted into something new and special.

Sometimes a personal, critical inventory of our well-being is the only next step available and that was certainly the case for me.  I would like to think, as I started, that I am immensely better off for working through the process.  I realise that most of the beliefs that I had and used were the ones that I was told to have by the many people that I have encountered through my life.  I never knew how to decide for myself or how to critically think.  This has brought me to an understanding and firm belief that we, as teachers, have a responsibility to NOT tell our learners what to think or believe, but we have a responsibility to teach them how to think.  The journey continues.